Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Paris a Billboard Boasted Paulo Coelho's Head 10 Feet High

Lynn Alexander of Full of Crow recently posed some important questions about the small press:

*What is our obligation [as writers, voices, opinions] to this [small press] community?
*Are we cooperative or competitive?
*Is "community" the relentless pushing of the friends that push us?
*Is "community" playing nice?

To Lynn's thoughts I add a few of my own:

I think that the small press community CAN be in danger of mindlessly boosting our friends, or of being another sort of vanity press--and that (more over) we can be in danger of being seen that way, even when it's not true. For myself as a small press blogger, I have come to the conclusion that it is my obligation (and preference) to THOUGHTFULLY SPOTLIGHT the writers and presses I like and/or respect.

On spotlighting: I feel that the small press (being SO far below the big presses in advertising dollars) always needs a boost, and its worthiest voices usually deserve a wider audience. Equally often there are small press folks working hard on very interesting projects--or tackling ongoing dilemmas like distribution--in ways that merit attention even when I'm not in love with (or haven't had the time to read) the actual writing. That is, there are ways to add to the small press conversation that expand the diversity of expression and the scope of publishing--ultimately strengthening and testing and enjoying the fruits of the first amendment--which earn my respect even if the writing is not to my taste. But I don't wish to add more noise to the conversation by merely boosting mindlessly, so....

On thoughtful blogging: I have to admit that I dislike reviewing, but I also feel guilty about it. I wish I was a faster reader, and it's probably absurd to say I wish I was faster at writing criticism: Reviews necessarily take time to consider, research, and write well. But what I try to achieve in this blog is to offer some *context* to the small press books, presses, and authors I write about. The "librarian" aspect of this blog is similar to my journalism background; I'd like to tell you things about the small press without either condescending to those who already know, or leaving out those who don't know. I'd like to leave you with a bit of context, history, background; a flavor of the small press culture; a notion of which small presses are connected to which others; some objective information about a book you're not likely to have heard of outside of promo-speak by the author; a notion of why you might care that I'm spotlighting this particular title today. I try to assign reviews from time to time, and I thank my guest reviewers very much for that service to this blog.

What do you think about these issues? Do you think it's the role of small press writers to critique or support their fellow small press folk? Should there be an emphasis on exposing the "truth" no matter how harsh, or is that better left to the professional critics? Should small press writers you feel are bad writers be squelched early rather than encouraged, or should small press writers who do well be shot down when you feel they're overrated? Is there such as thing as an "overrated small press author," when 85% of the nation's readers still haven't heard of any of us? When even a literate magazine editor has never heard the term "small press"? Does "bad writing" add to the diversity of publishing, or detract? And can we still talk about "diversity" in the small press when the vast number of its players are white and college-educated? Or is diversity of expression an important thing unto itself that should be critiqued along with the diversity of the backgrounds (and content) of its voices?

1 comment:

Lynn Alexander said...

Karen you are such a lady after my own heart!
I appreciate that you have the clarity to be both supportive and genuine, inclusive yet discerning.

Apart from the reviews matter which I touched on in Meg's thread, I think that we are often dealing with mixed motives and different relationships with small press that have to be acknowledged and understood. Some serve small press, some want to be served by it. We have different ideas about what community means.

I am not judging ambition. But what I do hate to see is destructive infighting that takes energy and -frankly- makes small press look bad. It reinforces the idea that small press is the harbor of the inept and the socially dysfunctional as opposed to the valid,vibrant, innovative, alternative community that we are.

There are so many things one could get into here, I don't want to give them short shrift, nor do I want to ramble.

I would like to hear what others have to say and will check back.